Justice Department will pay for private defense of Yoo

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U.S. Lawyers Won't Defend Ex-Bush Attorney in Torture-Memo Case

By Karen Gullo

July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Justice Department attorneys will no longer defend former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo, who wrote memos justifying harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists, in a lawsuit claiming he's responsible for violating the constitutional rights of a detainee.

Private lawyers paid by the Justice Department will represent Yoo, who is appealing a federal judge's refusal to throw out the lawsuit, according to court filings and a Justice Department spokeswoman. The filings didn't name the lawyers.

"The department so far has been able to provide direct representation in this case by arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed for qualified immunity reasons, and that remains the department's position," Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said yesterday in an e-mail. "But as this case moves forward, the defendant deserves the opportunity to retain defense counsel that can make any and all arguments available on his behalf."

Paying Yoo's legal bills is "normal practice when the potential exists for disagreement between the government and the defendant over complex legal questions," Schmaler said. Qualified immunity protects government officials from being sued for damages unless they violated clearly established law.

Jose Padilla, a detainee convicted last year of supporting terrorists and conspiring to commit murder, sued Yoo, who advised Bush that terrorism suspects weren't protected by Geneva Convention bans on physical abuse.

Enemy Combatant

Padilla was detained for three years as an enemy combatant in the U.S., where he claims he was subjected to physical abuse that was part of a system of torture created with Yoo's help. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco last month denied most of Yoo's motion to dismiss the case, saying even enemy combatants are protected by the Constitution.

Yoo, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, didn't return a voice-mail message seeking comment yesterday.

President Barack Obama has banned use of the harshest interrogation techniques. His administration on March 2 released documents showing Yoo's advice had been repudiated as either incorrect or highly questionable.

On July 10, a report by five U.S. inspector generals said Yoo also used flawed legal reasoning to justify a wiretapping program conducted by the Bush administration without court search warrants after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The case is Padilla v. Yoo, 08-00035, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco atkgullo@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: July 14, 2009

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This page contains a single entry published on July 14, 2009 8:52 AM.

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